Q: I want to estimate my retirement benefit at several different ages. Is there a way to do that?

A: Use our Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator to get an instant, personalized retirement benefit estimate based on current law and your earnings record. The Retirement Estimator, which also is available in Spanish, lets you create additional “what if” retirement scenarios based on different income levels and “stop work” ages.

Q: Why doesn’t my estimate using the Retirement Estimator take into account my work as a teacher? I’ve worked for 20 years for the state and thought it would count.

A: If you work for a state or local government agency — including a school system, college or university — your earnings may not be covered by Social Security. If you are covered only by your state or local pension plan and you don’t pay Social Security taxes, your earnings won’t be shown on your Social Security record. (Your record will show your Medicare wages if you pay into that program.) For information on how your pension from non-covered state or local employment may affect the amount of your Social Security benefit, you can visit www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/wep-chart.htm.

— Tribune News Service

Unusual ways to use and reuse

A fun collection of random tips:

CORD CORRAL. To corral a group of cords under your desk or behind a TV, buy a plastic shower rod cover. Cut it to your desired length. Then spread it open and enclose the cords. You can even match it to your carpet color to make the cords less visible.

FRESH SCENT. Scented candle stubs from used candles will keep your car smelling fresh. Put the wax pieces in a can or a small container and leave them in your car. On a warm day, the wax will melt and fill the car with a nice fragrance.

FIRE STATION FUN. Throw an affordable children’s birthday party at your local fire station. Some stations allow their facilities, including the kitchen, to be used for parties for only a small donation to a local charity. Parties are supervised by firefighters and may include a tour and a chance to sit in a firetruck.

REUSE MOUSE PADS. If you have more mouse pads than you know what to do with, use them for other things around the house. They are great furniture protectors for indoor clay flowerpots. Just cut the pad to fit the size of the pot.

SQUEAKY CLEAN. Clean the inside of your dishwasher with two packets of unsweetened lemon Kool-Aid. Pour the packets of Kool-Aid into each of the dishwasher’s detergent cups and run it empty on the longest and hottest cycle. Lemon Kool-Aid is loaded with citric acid, which is just what you need to remove the soap residue and hard water minerals that collect inside the dishwasher.

— Mary Hunt, Everyday Cheapskate

Data breaches can lead to extortion

Hackers who steal data aren’t after just your bank account passwords. They can cash in through other means, too, such as threatening to expose confidential information they’ve obtained unless you pay a ransom.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center said people have received threatening emails following data breaches. Those emails demand payment in bitcoins, a virtual currency, typically in amounts between $250 and $1,200.

Victims of this extortion are told their name, phone number, address, credit card information and embarrassing personal details will be released publicly, such as to their contacts on social media, if they don’t pay.

It’s difficult to determine if the crooks sending the emails really have your information or if they’re bluffing. But you don’t want to have to make that call.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center says you can

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